Live in Love

5:1 Therefore, be imitators of God as dearly loved children 5:2 and live in love, just as Christ also loved us and gave himself for us, a sacrificial and fragrant offering to God. 5:3 But among you there must not be either sexual immorality, impurity of any kind, or greed, as these are not fitting for the saints. 5:4 Neither should there be vulgar speech, foolish talk, or coarse jesting—all of which are out of character—but rather thanksgiving. 5:5 For you can be confident of this one thing: that no person who is immoral, impure, or greedy (such a person is an idolater) has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.

Like Father, Like Child, Eph 5:1-2

Therefore – These two verses are transitional. They provide a vital rationale for holy living: we are to live moral and upright lives not as some kind of ‘rule-keeping’ exercise, but so that we can become more like the God who has saved us. There must be a ‘family likeness’ between the Father and his children.

Be imitators of God – In many important respects, it is utterly impossible for us to imitate God: indeed, ‘You shall become like God’ was the great lie of the serpent and remains the essence of irreligion. We cannot copy God, for example, in either his creative or his redemptive work. Yet in the areas of attitude and relationships, we can and must follow our Maker. Especially we are to become more like our heavenly Father in this matter of forgiveness. Those who have received forgiveness from God, must show it to others. ‘Like Father, like child.’

Live a life of love – The imitation of God is widened from forgiveness, Eph 4:32, to the whole sphere of love. And this not fitfully, or occasionally, but as the habit of a lifetime.

  • Eph 3:17 And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love…
  • Eph 4:2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.
  • Eph 4:15 Speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.
  • Jn 13:34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”
  • 1 Co 16:14 Do everything in love.
  • Col 3:14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
  • 1 Pet 4:8 Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.
  • 1 Jn 3:23 And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.

Just as Christ loved as… – This is the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ of Christian love. Our love should be modelled on that of Christ, whose love was expressed in the sacrificial giving of himself on behalf of others.

…and gave himself up for us – ‘There is not a single place in Paul’s writings, nor in the New Testament generally, where the death of Christ can be spoken of as only an example to be followed, without the further expression of its atoning significance.’ (Foulkes) The verb us here is also used of the heathen, Eph 4:19: some give themselves up to licentiousness; we are to follow Christ, who gave himself up in order that we might be saved.

  • Eph 5:25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her
  • Jn 15:12-13 “my command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.  Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”
  • Tit 2:14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.
  • 1 Pet 2:21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps…1 Pet 2:24 (NIV) he himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.
  • 1 Jn 3:16 (NIV) This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.

Our love or each other is to be modelled after Christ’s love for us.  He ‘gave himself up for us’.  Such love is a painful, sacrificial love.

‘The Chinese Christian theologian Choan-Seng Song tells us that in Chinese “one is required to say the two words ‘love’ and ‘pain’ almost in the same breath.  I am referring to the expression ‘pain-love’…A mother feels pain-love for her child.  Husband and wife feel pain-love for each other.  Inherent in such aa pain-love is self-sacrifice.  Through the intensely human experience of pain-love we can surmise what God’s love for the world may be like…The cross is God’s excruciating pain-love.  It is rooted in the love of the God who bears pain for the world.’ (Christopher Lamb, Belief in a Mixed Society.

A fragrant offering – This term describes the acceptability of Christ’s death. It was an offering which pleased God.

  • Gen 8:21 The LORD smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.”

‘Not that God took any delight or content in the bitter sufferings of Christ, simply and in themselves considered; but with relation to the end for which he was offered, even our redemption and salvation. Hence arose the delight and pleasure God had in it; this made him take pleasure in bruising, him, Isa 53:10. God smelled a savour of rest in this sacrifice. The meaning is, that as men are offended with a stench, and their stomachs rise at it, and on the contrary delighted with sweet doors and fragrances; so the blessed God speaking after the manner of man, is offended, and filled with loathing, and abhorrence by our sins; but infinitely pleased and delighted in the offering of Christ for them, which came up as an odour of sweet smelling savour to him, Whereof the costly perfumes under the law were types and shadows.’ (Flavel)

Sacrifice to God – This term describes the essence of Christ’s death. It was the laying down of his own life as a ransom, 1 Tim 2:6, and a propitiation, Rom 3:25.

Heb 9:14 How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!

Coarse joking – eutrapelia occurs only here in the NT, and Paul’s precise meaning is accordingly difficult to determine.  Usage elsewhere, along with the context, suggest that what we would call ‘dirty jokes’ are out of place among God’s people.

Thanksgiving – ‘Our cheerfulness should show itself as becomes Christians, in what may tend to God’s glory.’ (MHCC)

Greedy person – such a man is an idolater – ‘A covetous man makes a god of his money; places that hope, confidence, and delight, in worldly good, which should be in God only.’ (MHCC)

‘Those who allow themselves, either in the lusts of the flesh or the love of the world, belong not to the kingdom of grace, nor shall they come to the kingdom of glory.’ (MHCC)

‘Little do they think that worldliness is a most guiltful sin in respect of God, and most hurtful in respect of men. Hark what the Word of God saith of it, Eph 5:5, – it is idolatry, and idolatry is the first sin of the first table.’ (Richard Capel)

Live in the Light

5:6 Let nobody deceive you with empty words, for because of these things God’s wrath comes on the sons of disobedience. 5:7 Therefore do not be partakers with them, 5:8 for you were at one time darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of the light—5:9 for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness, and truth—5:10 trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. 5:11 Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. 5:12 For the things they do in secret are shameful even to mention. 5:13 But all things being exposed by the light are made evident. 5:14 For everything made evident is light, and for this reason it says:
“Awake, O sleeper!
Rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you!”

God’s wrath – ‘Dare we make light of that which brings down the wrath of God?’ (MHCC)

In Jonathan Edward’s famous words: ‘The use of this awful subject may be for awakening unconverted persons to a conviction of their danger. This that you have heard is the case of every one out of Christ. That world of misery, that lake of burning brimstone, is extended abroad under you. There is the dreadful pit of the glowing flames of the wrath of God; there is hell’s wide gaping mouth open; and you have nothing to stand upon, nor anything to take hold of, there is nothing between you and hell but the air; it is only the power and mere pleasure of God that holds you up.’

You were once darkness – ‘Let them reflect that once upon a time they too had been darkness; not merely unenlightened or ill-informed, but wrapt in a dense fog-bank of moral hallucinations, Satanically blinded therewithal and glorying in their shame.’ (Simpson)

‘Darkness, like a minus quantity, symbolises a yawning deficiency, a destitution of the most essential element of life, the light of day. Their quondam darkness, notwithstanding all the palliatives invented to gloss over the real situation, lay under a curse and blight of sterility; but the Spirit of life by whom they have been visited vivifies all he touches and fosters in his seedlings the self-evidencing fruitage of the spiritual orchard.’ (Cf. Rom 6:21) (Simpson)

‘The Christless state is a state of ignorance, and such must needs be naked and unarmed. He that cannot see his enemy, how can he ward oft the blow he sends? One seeing prophet leads a whole army of blind men whither he pleaseth. The imperfect knowledge saints have here, is Satan’s advantage against them; he often takes them on the blind side; how easily then may he, with a parcel of good words, carry the blind soul out of his way, who knows not a step of the right!’ (Gurnall)

But now you are light in the Lord – ‘This darkness cannot be enlightened, but by its union with Christ, which is expressed in the following phrase, ‘But now are ye light in the Lord.’ As the eye of the body once put out, can never be restored by the creature’s art, so neither can the spiritual eye, lost by Adam’s sin, be restored by the teaching of men and angels.’ (Gurnall)

This is striking: not just formerly in the darkness, and now in the light. Paul is referring not just to their environment, but to their very lives. ‘Sinners, like men in the dark, are going they know not whither, and doing they know not what.’ (MHCC)

‘When the vilest transgressors repent and believe the gospel, they become children of obedience, from whom God’s wrath is turned away.’ (MHCC)

The fruit of the light – Paul likens goodness and truth to a harvest ripening under the light of the sun.

Foulkes says that this is closely connected with v8, given that v9 is parenthetical.  The same thought is taken up on v17.

Find out what pleases the Lord – Not what suits ourselves, but what pleases him. How do we find this out? – By consulting God’s word, Isa 8:20; by considering the example of Christ.

The word translated ‘find out’ implies ‘careful thought and discrimination. The light of God is given, but it does not free us from the responsibility of thought and choice.’ (Foulkes).  See also Rom 12:2.

‘The word dokimazō means “putting to the test,” “proving,” “examining.” The Christian life is not just a simple”] acceptance of doctrines and rules; believers exercise intelligent judgment as they relate their theology to specific moral situations.’ (Patzia)

‘The desires and choices of those who walk in the light are governed by their prior determination, to please not themselves (Gal. 1:10), but their Lord (2 Cor. 5:9; Phil 4:18; Col. 1:10).’ (Foulkes)

Patzia observes that ‘euarestos‘ (well-pleasing) usually carries a sacrificial connotation ( as in Rom. 12:1; Phil. 4:18).  Beare: ‘here it suggests the thought that the life of the Christian is ever laid upon the altar. All of our actions are to be an offering to God … and we must therefore take care that they are acceptable to him.’

The fruitless deeds of darkness – ‘These works of darkness are unfruitful, whatever profit they may boast; for they end in the destruction of the impenitent sinner…There are many ways of abetting, or taking part in the sins of others; by commendation, counsel, consent, or concealment. And if we share with others in their sins, we must expect to share in their plagues.’ (MHCC)

But rather expose them – ‘If we do not reprove the sins of others, we have fellowship with them.’ (MHCC)

‘A distinction seems to be drawn between two discrepant classes of transgressions. Some are too foul to be mentioned by sanctified lips. These ranker abominations, like rotting carcases, ought to be buried out of sight. But iniquities of a less heinous cast, compatible with a conscience not utterly seared, should be rebuked by shedding the light of heaven on their obliquity.’ (Simpson)

It is said – What follows seems to be an adaptation of Isa 26:19; 60:1. However, the wording of the last line suggests that a fragment of an early Christian hymn is being quoted.

‘After the example of prophets and apostles, we should call on those asleep and dead in sin, to awake and arise, that Christ may give them light.’ (MHCC)

Live Wisely

5:15 Therefore be very careful how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 5:16 taking advantage of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 5:17 For this reason do not be foolish, but be wise by understanding what the Lord’s will is. 5:18 And do not get drunk with wine, which is debauchery, but be filled by the Spirit, 5:19 speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making music in your hearts to the Lord, 5:20 always giving thanks to God the Father for each other in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 5:21 and submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Those who travel over boggy or uneven ground cannot afford to ‘take it easy’ as those walking on an even surface may do. Similarly, those who live in difficult times must take special care to watch their step.

‘They are to “market” the time allotted to them, to turn it to good account like the faithful servants in the parable of the Talents. Opportunities are ever on the wing: they must be seized and husbanded or else spurned and missed, for as a rule they do not recur.Paul counsels them to buy them up with sanctified ingenuity, even as shrewd hands purchase properties at a favourable juncture, or as the intelligent husbandman improves the fleeting hour. Time may be gained as well as lost. Too many dawdlers “let the years slip through their fingers like water” to no worthy purpose…”A man’s situation,” says Burke, “is the preceptor of his duty;” and in a higher sphere the signals of providence are to be read with enlightened judgement. But duty itself is not optional, nor has the imperative mood properly any future tense.’ (Simpson)

Therefore – ‘Because the danger is so great, the wickedness to appalling, the opportunity to precious, and because constant watchfulness, earnest effort, and unwavering zeal are so necessary, do not be absurd.’ (Hendriksen)

Do not be foolish – Do not be without reflection or understanding.

Understand what the Lord’s will is – Do not depend on you own understanding; do not regard the advice of others as the ultimate touchstone of what is true and right. Let the will of the Lord be your guide. Pr 3:5, ‘Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.’

‘Jesus himself prayed, “Not my will but yours be done,” and taught us to pray, “May your will be done on earth as in heaven.” Nothing is more important in life than to discover and do the will of God. Moreover, in seeking to discover it, it is essential to distinguish between his “general” and his “particular” will. The former is so called because it relates to the generality of his people and is the same for all of us, e.g. to make us like Christ. His particular will, however, extending to the particularities of our life, is different for each of us, e.g. what career we should follow, whether we should marry, and if so whom. Only after this distinction has been made can we consider how we may find out “what the will of the Lord is.” His “general” will is found in Scripture; the will of God for the people of God has been reveals in the Word of God. But we shall not find his “particular” will in Scripture. To be sure we shall find general principles in Scripture to guide us, but detailed decisions have to be made after careful thought and prayer and the seeking of advice from mature and experienced believers.’ (John Stott, Authentic Christianity, 248)

Fee points out that the background to this lies, not in Acts 2:13, but in the preceding verses of the current passage, which began at Eph 4:17. In an initial set of ‘before’ and ‘after’ contrasts, Eph 4:17-24, Paul has mentioned in Eph 4:18 that those outside Christ have their understanding ‘darkened’. This is picked up again in Eph 5:8, where Paul uses the motif in a variety of ways. In the present verse, drunkenness is mentioned as one of the ‘deeds of darkness’. The sense is, ‘Never get drunk…always be filled by the Spirit.’

Paul does not here emphasis any ecstatic aspects of the Spirit’s presence, as though there is a direct spiritual counterpart to being drunk with wine. Rather, it is the Spirit’s sanctifying influence which is in view, as in Gal 5:16.

Paul does not say, ‘Be full of the Spirit’, but, ‘Be filled by the Spirit’. Filled, then, with what? Paul’s prayer in Eph 3:17-19 was that ‘Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith,’ and that ‘you may be filled to the measure of all the fulness of God.’ ‘Here, then, is the ulimate imperative in the Pauline corpus: God’s people so filled by/with the Spirit’s own presence that they come to know God in all his fullness and reflect such in the way they live in relationship to one another and to God himself.’ (Fee, 722)

It is, no doubt, an individual responsibility to be filled with the Spirit. But the immediate context here draws attention to its corporate aspect. There is a need for God’s people collectively to be so ‘full of God’ by his Spirit that their worship and mutually submissive relationships witness to the Spirit’s presence.

Examples of being ‘filled’ with the Holy Spirit: John the Baptist, Lk 1:15; his parents, Lk 1:41,67; our Lord, Lk 4:1; Peter, Acts 4:8; Stephen, Acts 6:5; 7:55; Saul, Acts 9:17; 13:9; Barnabas, Acts 11:24. See also Acts 2:4; 4:31; 6:3; 13:52. It sometimes appears to be a permanent endowment, Acts 6:5; 9:17; 11:24; at others a particular empowering for a special occasion, Acts 4:8; 13:9.

There are no references to anyone actually being filled with the Spirit outside Luke’s writings. The injunction in Eph 5:18 could mean, (a) ‘be filled with the Spirit’; (b) ‘be filled in (the sphere of) the Spirit’; (c) ‘be filled in (your) spirit’ (ie in your higher faclties rather than your lower). Whatever the correct rendering of this verse, it is clear that the NT as a whole encourages us all to experience in fullest measure the indwelling, enriching, and empowering of the Holy Spirit.

This is one of a series of basic principles of conduct (cf. Eph 4:1,17 5:1) laid down as a sequel to the great doctrinal statements of chapters 1-3. Being filled with the Spirit is not so much a euphoric experience as an ethical imperative.

Paul is not teaching a new experience here, one which his readers had not encountered before. Cf. Acts 19:1-7; Eph 1:13-14. The NT knows nothing of believers who have not received and been sealed or baptised with the Holy Spirit. Nor is Paul teaching a single, definitive experience. The tense is in the present continuous: ‘Go on being filled’. Furthermore, Paul is not teaching an experience to receive so much as a duty to carry out. Cf. Gal 5:16ff. We are not passively inert in our relationship with the Holy Spirit. If we lack spirituality, it is not because God has withheld something but because of personal failure.

‘To be filled with the Holy Spirit is to be filled with the immediate presence of God himself, and it therefore will result in feeling what God feels, desiring what God desires, doing what God wants, speaking by God’s power, praying and ministering in God’s strength, and knowing with the knowledge which God himself gives.’ (Grudem, Systematic Theology, 649)

How can someone already filled keep on being filled? Note what happened to Peter: he had been filled on the Day of Pentecost; yet was filled again a few days later in order to meet a new challenge, Acts 4:8. Similarly with Paul in Paphos, Acts 13:9. Our spiritual life can only be maintained by a continual replenishment, Jn 1:16. Thus Jesus taught his followers to seek the Holy Spirit, Mt 7:7ff. We are not only to come to Christ, but to ‘abide’ in him, Jn 15:4.

‘Someone might object that a person who is already “full” of the Holy Spirit cannot become more full – if a glass is full of water no more water can be put into it. But a water glass is a poor analogy for us as real people, for God is able to cause us to grow and to be able to contain much more of the Holy Spirit’s fullness and power. A better analogy might be a balloon, which can be “full” of air even though it has very little air in it. When more air is blown in, the balloon expands and in a sense it is “more full.” So it is with us: we can be filled with the Holy Spirit and at the same time be able to receive much more of the Holy Spirit as well. It was only Jesus himself to whom the Father gave the Spirit without measure, Jn 3:34.’ (Grudem, Systematic Theology, 782)

What are the signs of being Spirit-filled? First, it will be in sharp contrast to the extravagance, the hedonism, the self-confidence of drunkenness. Being filled with the Spirit is not another kind of intoxication, 1 Cor 14:32. The apostles on the Day of Pentecost were completely self-controlled and lucid. There is no necessary connection between the filling of the Holy Spirit and swooning, chanting, and other physical or emotional effects. On the other hand, the contrast with being drunk reminds of the allegation on the day of Pentecost, Acts 2:13, and that the fullness of the Spirit is accompanied by a holy exhilaration: the Spirit-filled Christian is on fire for God. The fullness of the Spirit brings both order and ardour. Second, it will lead to such spiritual and moral features as Paul describes in Eph 5:18-6:9. There will be spiritual edifying and God-glorifying praise; (cf Col 3:16; Ps 40:3) gratitude in all things; (cf Job 1:21; Ps 145:2; Php 4:11) transformed relationships, defined in the form or duties, rather than rights, Php 2:5; Eph 5:22ff;

‘Such fullness of the Holy Spirit will result in renewed worship and thanksgiving, Eph 5:19f, and in renewed relationships to others, especially those in authority over us or those under our authority, Eph 5:21-6-9. In addition, since the Holy Spirit is the Spirit who sanctifies us, such a filling will often result in increased sanctification. Furthermore, since the Holy Spirit is the one who empowers us for Christian service and gives us spiritual gifts, such filling will often result in increased power for ministry and increased effectiveness and perhaps diversity in the use of spiritual gifts.’ (Grudem, Systematic Theology, 781f)

‘Men are said to be filled with wine when completely under its influence. In the same way, they are said to be filled with the Spirit when he controls all their thoughts, feelings, words, and actions. (see Lk 4:1; Acts 6:5; 11:24) To the Christian, therefore, the source of strength and joy is not wine, but the blessed Spirit of God. Just as drunkenness produces rioting and debauchery, so the Holy Spirit produces a joy which expresses itself in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs.’ (Hodge)

‘At first sight this juxtaposition seems a trifle incongruous; but on maturer reflection we remember how the disciples on the day of Pentecost were charged with drunkenness, albeit groundlessly. Signal manifestations of the Spirit in seasons of revival have not seldom been accompanied by phenomena easily confounded with physical intoxication; and scenes of this description Paul had doubtlessly witnessed. The “gift of tongues” itself had features that might be stigmatised as delirium.’ (1 Cor 14:23) (Simpson)

‘What is the evidence of being filled with the Spirit? It is not excessive emotionalism or spectacular phenomena (note that nothing is said here about either speaking with tongues or gifts of healing), but rather the following types of behaviour:-

  1. worshiping God together and thus edifying one another;
  2. making music in our hearts to the Lord – a joyful inner disposition;
  3. always giving thanks to God for everything;
  4. submitting ourselves to fellow Christians out of reverence for Christ.’

(Hoekema, Saved by Grace, 51)

Be filled with the Spirit – John Stott remarks that:-

  1. It is in the imperative mood. It is not optional, but obligatory. We have no more liberty to avoid this responsibility than the many others which accompany it in Eph.
  2. It is in the plural form. It is addressed to the whole Christian community. None of us is to get drunk; all of us are to be Spirit-filled. It is not a privilege for the elite, an optional extra for honours students or outstanding saints, but the duty of the rank and file.
  3. It is in the passive voice. ‘Let the Holy Spirit fill you’ (NEB). There is no technique to follow or formula to recite. What is essential is repentance of all that grieves the Holy Spirit and a believing openness so that nothing hinders us from being filled. Note that the parallel passage in Col reads, ‘Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly’, 3:16. The Word and the Spirit are never to be separated: to obey the Word and to surrender to the Spirit are virtually the same thing.
  4. It is in the present continuous tense. This implies that we are to go on being filled. The fullness of the Spirit is not a once-for-all experience which can never be lost, but a privilege to be renewed continuously by faith and obedience. We have been ‘sealed’ with the Spirit once and for all; we need to be filled with the Spirit and go on being filled every moment and every day.

‘The two chief spheres in which this fulness is manifest are worship and fellowship. If we are filled with the Spirit, we shall be praising Christ and thanking our Father, and we shall be speaking and submitting to one another. The Holy Spirit puts us in a right relationship with both God and man. It is in these spiritual qualities and activities, not in supernatural phenomena, that we should look for primary evidence of the Holy Spirit’s fullness.’ (Stott, Baptism and Fullness, 59f)

A man who drank heavily was converted to Christ and lived victoriously for several weeks. One day as he passed the open door of a tavern, the pungent odor drifting out aroused his old appetite for liquor. Just then he saw this sign in the window of a nearby cafe: “All the buttermilk you can drink-25 cents!” Dashing inside, he ordered one glass, then another, and still another. After finishing the third he walked past the saloon and was no longer tempted. He was so full of buttermilk that he had no room for that which would be injurious to him. The lesson is clear: to be victorious over our evil desires, we must leave no opportunity for them to repossess us.

Fullness is not optional

‘”Be filled (Eph 5:18) is not a tentative suggestion, a mild recommendation, a polite piece of advice.  It is a command which comes to us from Christ with all the authority of one of his chosen apostles.  We have no more liberty to escape this duty than we have the ethical duties which surround the text, e.g. to speak the truth, to do honest work, to be kind and forgiving to one another, or to live lives of purity and love.  The fullness of the Holy Spirit is not optional for the Christian, but obligatory.’ (Stott, Baptism and Fullness, 60)

This verse does not support the claim that after becoming a Christian a single, definitive filling is essential for completion.

Dwight L. Moody once demonstrated the principle like this: “Tell me,” he said to his audience, “how can I get the air out of the tumbler I have in my hand?” One man said, “Suck it out with a pump.” But the evangelist replied, “That would create a vacuum and shatter it.” Finally after many suggestions, Moody picked up a pitcher and quietly filled the glass with water. “There,” he said, “all the air is now removed.” He then explained that victory for the child of God does not come by working hard to eliminate sinful habits, but rather by allowing the Holy Spirit to take full possession.

‘Being filled with the Spirit is not a once-for-all experience. When Paul commands: “Be filled with the Spirit” he is speaking in the present continuous tense which gives the meaning “Go on being filled with the Spirit.” D.L. Moody once said, “I am filled with the Holy Spirit, but I leak.”‘ (Charles Sibthorpe, A Man Under Authority)

Speak to one another – indicating the horizontal aspect of worship, whereby we encourage and instruct each other. Examples: ‘Stand up and bless the Lord’; ‘O worship the King’. It is interesting to think of examples of hymns and songs in which thoughts are addressed:-

  1. To oneself: ‘Be still, my soul’
  2. To one another: ‘Stand up and bless the Lord’; ‘Come, let us join our cheerful songs’
  3. From oneself to God: ‘O love that will not let me go’
  4. From ourselves to God: ‘We love the place, O God’
  5. To God in the third person

Make music – Lincoln says, with regard to this expression, that ‘although its original meaning involved plucking a stringed instrument, ψάλλω here means to make music by singing (cf. also 1 Cor 14:15; Jas 5:13), so that there is no reference in this verse to instrumental accompaniment.’

The argument of regarding the use of musical instruments in Christian worship is tenuous.  First, a stream of OT references is presented to support the (obvious) point that musical instruments were employed in worship in OT times.  Then, it is noted that, despite the absence of any reference in the NT to musical instruments being used in Christian worship, the fact that the NT nowhere condemns their use is taken to indicate that OT usage was continued in the NT church.  Because the early church consisted ‘almost entirely of Jews’ (really??), ‘it is highly likely that they continued using musical instruments in the church, just as they did in Old Testament worship.’  Finally, the expression used in this verse is based on a Greek word (‘psallontes‘) which was ‘commonly used’ to refer to strumming or plucking a stringed instrument.  The entire argument is weak.  On the meaning of the Greek word, see the note above.

Music and worship

Spurgeon warned: ‘I am afraid that where organs, choirs, and singing men and women are left to do the praise of the congregation, men’s minds are more occupied with the due performance of the music that with the Lord, who alone is to be praised. God’s house is meant to be sacred unto himself, but too often it is made an opera house, and Christians form an audience, not an adoring assembly. We come not together to amuse ourselves, to display our powers of melody, or our aptness in creating harmony. We come to pay our adoration at the footstool of the great King, to whom alone be glory for ever and ever.’ (The Best of Spurgeon, 129f)

In your heart – rather ‘with your heart’, ‘because the exhortation is not to silent, but to heartfelt worship. In congregational singing the outward expression of praise must not outrun the spirit of inward devotion. As the mouth sings the words, so the heart is lifted up to the Lord.’ (Wilson) Cf Jn 4:24.

‘God does not prescribe for Christian worship in the detailed fashion of Old Testament times, but the New Testament shows clearly what the staple ingredients of corporate Christian worship are, namely, praise (“psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs,” Eph 5:19), prayer, and preaching, with regular administration of the Lord’s Supper. (Ac 20:7-11) Singing to God’s praise was evidently a big thing in the apostolic church, as it has been in all movements of spiritual power ever since: Paul and Barnabas, along with their praying (aloud), sang hymns in the prison in Philippi, (Ac 16:25) and the New Testament contains a number of what appear to be hymn fragments (Eph 5:14; Php 2:6-11; 1 Tim 3:16; and others) while the “new songs” of Revelation are both numerous and exuberant, indeed ecstatic. (Rev 4:8,11; 5:9-10,12-13; 7:10,12; 11:15,17-18; 12:10-12; 15:3-4; 19:1-8; 21:3-4) Any local church anywhere that is spiritually alive will undoubtedly take its singing, praying, and preaching very seriously indeed, and be jealous for all three.’ (Packer, Concise Theology)

As is evident in the Old Testament, the Hebrew faith emphasized the joy of singing to the Lord, but Christianity is even more profoundly a singing faith. Singing can help to make teaching and preaching even more useful. The Colossians were to emphasize the ministry of teaching and admonition by the singing of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.

To the Lord – indicating the vertical aspect of worship, whereby we address the Lord directly when we sing. Examples: ‘King of glory, King of peace’; ‘All things praise thee, Lord most high’

As the form of the verb (submitting…’ indicates, ‘this passage [Eph 5:21-33] is directly dependent on the exhortation of Eph 5:18, “be filled with the Spirit.” One of the means of being filled with the Spirit is “submitting to one another in the fear of Christ” (Eph 5:21). This indicates that an attitude of self-denial and a concern for the needs of others is an essential part of what it means to live as a Christian within the community of believers. At the same time, Paul affirms that the filling of the Spirit is also predicated upon fulfilling a set of distinctive role obligations for each social grouping within the Christian household. In other words, the work of the Spirit can be hindered by individual self-centeredness that is displayed by rejecting a proper Christian role in relationships and an attitude of giving of oneself to others.’ (Arnold)

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ – The word translated ‘submit’ is hypotassō.  It means ‘to take a subordinate role in relation to that of another’ (Lincoln).  The middle voice indicates that Paul is envisioning a voluntary, rather than an imposed or servile, submission.

‘The verb ὑποτάσσω refers to the ordering of something underneath something else, and when the passive voice of the verb is used of people (as it is here), it often refers to the voluntary “submission” of one person to another (BDAG 1042). People should place their minds underneath God’s authority (but often do not do this; Rom. 8:7; cf. 10:3); people should place themselves under the divinely ordained governmental authorities (Rom. 13:1, 5; Titus 3:1); the Corinthian church should submit to the household of Stephanas (1 Cor. 16:16); wives should, similarly, submit themselves to their husbands (Col. 3:18; Titus 2:5), and slaves should do the same with respect to their masters (Titus 2:9).’ (Thielman)

'Submit to one another'
But what does it mean to ‘submit to one another’?

  1. Some think that it means that everyone is to submit to everyone else.  Wives to husbands, husbands to wives, children to parents, parents to children, and so on.  In this case, ‘to submit’ would have to mean, ‘care for one another and put one another’s needs first.’  It is claimed that this is the clear meaning of the text itself.  Muddiman notes the lack of the verb hypotassomenoi (“to submit”) in Eph 5:22, and points to 1 Corinthians 7:4, which states that neither a husband nor a wife has authority over their own bodies; instead, the authority of one spouse’s body belongs to the other spouse.  It would, however, would make Paul inconsistent with himself when he proceeds to talk specifically about wives’ subjection to husbands, but not the converse.  Grudem remarks that the idea that a wife should submit to her husband would have been so unexpected in the male-dominated culture of the time, that the NT writers could have been expected to say it very clearly, if that is what they meant.
  2. Others think that Paul is referring here to what we might call ‘servant leadership’ – the notion that even those who are in authority should submit to those under that authority.  This interpretation is supported by Paul’s description of himself as becoming a slave to all, 1 Cor 9:19, and his instruction to the Galatian Christians to ‘serve as each other’s slave through love’, Gal:13.  Thielman quotes Calvin: ‘Even kings and governors rule that they may serve.’  Although husbands, parents, and others retain their authority, they exercise it with an attitude of service over those over whom they have been placed.  Although this concept of ‘servant leadership’ embodies a clear scriptural principle, it is less clear that it adequately represents Paul’s meaning here.
  3. Still others think that Paul’s instruction here is defined and clarified by the examples that follow.  Grudem, for example, points out that in those examples, wives are instructed to submit to their husbands, children to parents, and slaves to masters, and never the reverse.  This is also the case in Eph. 5:22–24; Col. 3:18; Titus 2:5; 1 Pet. 3:1–6.  Grudem notes that in all the following instances where the Greek word hypotassō is used, it contains the notion of ‘submission to authority’:-

• Jesus was subject to the authority of His parents (Luke 2:51).
• Demons were “subject to” the disciples (Luke 10:17; it is clear that the meaning “be considerate of, be thoughtful toward” cannot fit here, for the demons were certainly not considerate of or thoughtful toward the disciples!).
• Citizens are to be “subject to” the governing authorities (Rom. 13:1, 5; see also Titus 3:1; 1 Pet. 2:13).
• The universe is “in subjection” to Christ (1 Cor. 15:27; see also Eph. 1:22).
• Angels and other spiritual beings have been “subjected to” Christ (1 Pet. 3:22).
• Christ is “subjected to” God the Father (1 Cor. 15:28).
• Church members are to be “subject to” the elders in the church (1 Pet. 5:5).
• Wives are told to “submit to” their husbands (Eph. 5:22, 24; Col. 3:18; Titus 2:5; 1 Pet. 3:5).
• The church “submits to” Christ (Eph. 5:24).
• Servants are to be “submissive to” their masters (Titus 2:9; 1 Pet. 2:18).
• Christians are to be “subject to” God (Heb. 12:9; Jas. 4:7).

But what about the term ‘one another’ (allēlous)?  Certainly, it can sometimes mean ‘everyone to everyone else’, as in Jn 13:34.  But there are other times when does not carry such an unrestricted meaning.  See, for example, Rev 6:4, which speaks of men slaying ‘one another’, and 1 Cor 11:33, where Paul exhorts his readers to ‘wait for one another’.  Accordingly, Grudem paraphrases the present verse as follows: ‘Be subject to others in the church who are in positions of authority over you.’

‘Maintaining due subordination in the various relations of life. This general principle of religion the apostle proceeds now to illustrate in reference to wives, Eph 5:22-24; to children, Eph 6:1-3; and to servants, Eph 6:5-8. At the same time that he enforces this duty of submission, however, he enjoins on others to use their authority in a proper manner, and gives solemn injunctions that there should be no abuse of power. Particularly he enjoins on husbands the duty of loving their wives with all tenderness, Eph 5:25-33; on fathers, the duty of treating their children so that they might easily obey them, Eph 6:4; and on masters, the duty of treating their servants with kindness, remembering that they have a Master also in heaven, Eph 6:9. The general meaning here is, that Christianity does not break up the relations of life, and produce disorder, lawlessness, and insubordination; but that it will confirm every proper authority, and make every just yoke lighter. Infidelity is always disorganizing; Christianity never.’ (Barnes)

Exhortations to Households

5:22  Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord, 5:23 because the husband is the head of the wife as also Christ is the head of the church—he himself being the savior of the body. 5:24 But as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

‘The juxtaposition of the household code to the passage on spiritual warfare (Eph 6:10–20) likely suggests that this is one of the spheres of Satan’s attack. It is crucial for the various members of the Christian household to be filled with the Spirit (Eph 5:18) and to appropriate the enabling power of God (Eph 6:10–18) to resist the attacks of the evil one directed at these important and foundational relationships.’ (Arnold)

This passage (Eph 5:22-6:9) takes the form of a set of household rules.  These were common amongst the Greeks and the Jews, although it was only the latter that included provisions for the protection of women and children.  Similar guidelines are found in Col 3:18-4:1 and 1 Pet 2:18-3:7.  Some see in the command for reciprocal submission (v21) as revolutionary, and implying that husbands should submit to wives, and parents to children.  But, in fact, the rules are quite conservative, and indicate that Christians were not to subvert the more general social order.  But Paul’s teaching differs from households rules that are found outside the NT by appealing, not to political structures such as the state or the city, but to Christ himself as the source and motivation.  Paul’s teaching is also radical in the dignity which he ascribes to wives, children and slaves, and in the way in which he denies absolute authority to the husband, stressing that all domestic relationships are to be subsumed within our relationship to the Lord.

    1. The argument from creation: the man was made first, then the woman, and the woman was made to benefit the man as a suitable helper for him.
    2. The argument from the story of the Fall: the woman was first in the transgression, and God decreed in judgement that henceforth her husband should rule over her.
    3. The argument from Paul’s statement that the man is the head whom the wife is to obey, as Christ is the Head whom the church is to obey, 1 Cor 11:3 Eph 5:23.
    4. The argument based on Paul’s words ‘does not nature itself teach you?’, 1 Cor 11:14. This was really an appeal to the hierarchical principle embedded in the then current cultural consensus, rather than to the Bible itself.
The head of a wife is her husband?
Much discussion has taken place over the meaning of kephale (‘head’) in this context.  (See also 1 Cor 11:3).

The traditional understanding has been that ‘head of’ means, or at least implies ‘has authority over’.  The revisionist approach, favoured by many egalitarians, is that it does not even imply the notion of ‘authority’.  The most favoured alternative is ‘source’ (although, according to Thistelton, writing on 1 Corinthians, that interpretation is finding less favour in recent scholarship.

Kephale as ‘source’ would be an allusion to Gen 2, where Eve is created from Adam’s side.  In some analogous way, according to this interpretation, Christ is the ‘source’ of the church, and God the ‘source’ of Christ.

Kephale as ‘person with authority over’ would mean that there is a unique authority of the husband in respect of his wife, of Christ in respect of his church, and of God in respect of Christ.

Grudem offers the following points:

(a) An examination of over 2,000 instances of kephale in ancient Greek literature shows that it is never used other than in reference to a person with governing authority.

(b) It seems very unlikely that the reference of Christ as ‘head’ of his church is lacking any idea of authority.

(c) In a swathe of references from the Old Testament (LXX) and New Testament clearly indicate that the one who is called ‘head’ is a person in authority:

  • David as king of Israel is called the “head” of the people he conquered (2 Samuel [LXX 2 Kings] 22:44): “You kept me as the head of the nations; people whom I had not known served me”; similarly, Psalm 18 (LXX 17):43
  • The leaders of the tribes of Israel are called “heads” of the tribes (1 Kings [LXX 3 Kings] 8:1, Alexandrinus text): “Then Solomon assembled the elders of Israel and all the heads of the tribes” (similar statements in the second-century AD Greek translation of Aquila, Deuteronomy 5:23; 29:9 (English verse 10); 1 Kings [LXX 3 Kings] 8:1)
  • Jephthah becomes the “head” of the people of Gilead (Judges 11:11: “the people made him head and leader over them”; also stated in 10:18; 11:8, 9)
  • Pekah the son of Remaliah is the “head” of Samaria (Isaiah 7:9: “The head of Samaria is the son of Remaliah”)
  • The father is the “head” of the family (Hermas, Similitudes 7.3; the man is called “the head of the house”)
  • The husband is the “head” of the wife (Ephesians 5:23: “The husband is head of the wife even as Christ is head of the church”)
  • Christ is the “head” of the church (Colossians 1:18: “He is the head of the body, the church”; also in Ephesians 5:23)
  • Christ is the “head” of all things (Ephesians 1:22: “He put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church”)
  • God the Father is the “head” of Christ (1 Corinthians 11:3: “the head of Christ is God”)

(d) It makes no sense to say that ‘the husband is the source of the wife’ (Eph 5:23).

(e) Modern Greek lexicons agree that kephale means ‘person in authority over’, and not ‘source’.

Is Paul's argument here culturally determined?
It is often argued that Paul’s teaching (see, for example, Campbell-Read, ‘Should Wives “Submit Graciously”? A Feminist Approach to Interpreting Ephesians 5:21-33’, Review and Expositor, Vol 98)  is culturally conditioned at this point, and therefore not valid in other cultures and at other times.  An attempt is made to support this argument from Paul’s teaching on slavery.  ‘We are all agreed,’ it is asserted, ‘that Paul accepted slavery, but that we can no longer accept it today.  Surely, the same applies to women: it is high time that they were liberated, just as slaved have already been liberated.’

As Stott points out (Issues Facing Christians Today) this argument contains a number of flaws.  Most important are the Scriptural considerations: nowhere does Paul appeal to Scripture in favour of slavery, whereas he does precisely that with regard to the role of women.  ‘He drew his readers’ attention to the priority of creation (“man did not come from woman, but woman from man”, 1 Cor 11:8), and the purpose of creation (“neither was man created for woman, but woman for man”, 1 Cor 11:9).  Thus according to Scripture, although “man is born of woman” and the sexes are interdependent (1 Cor 11:11f), yet woman was made after man, out of man and for man.’
Stott cites Hurley as demonstrating that Paul’s scriptural reasoning is sound and clear, for by right of primogeniture the firstborn inherits the responsibility of leadership; when Eve was taken out of Adam he named her, the right to name being connected with control; and Eve was made neither as an afterthought, nor a plaything, but as his companion and fellow worker.  It is to be noted that these arguments are taken from Genesis 2, not Genesis 3: they are based on God’s good creation, and do not arise out of humanity’s fallen condition.

‘Since it is mainly on these facts of creation that Paul bases his case for the husband’s headship, his argument has permanent and universal validity, and is not to be dismissed as culturally limited. The cultural elements of his teaching are to be found in the applications of the principle, in the requirement of ‘veiling’ certainly, and I think also in the requirement of ‘silence’. But the man’s (and especially the husband’s) ‘headship’ is not a cultural application of a principle; it is the foundation principle itself. This is not chauvinism, but creationism. The new creation in Christ frees us from the distortion of relations between the sexes caused by the fall (e.g. Gn. 3:16), but it establishes the original intention of the creation. It was to this ‘beginning’ that Jesus himself went back (e.g. Mt. 19:4–6). He confirmed the teaching of Genesis 1 and 2. So must we. What creation has established, no culture is able to destroy.’ (Stott)

Barth’s view is that the argument here is actually counter-cultural, in that it restricts female submission to wives in relation to their husbands (not other males), and not that women are inferior to men.

‘In Paul’s day, many Romans were troubled by the spread of “religions from the East” (e.g., Isis worship, Judaism and Christianity), which they thought would undermine traditional Roman family values. Members of these minority religions often tried to show their support for those values by using a standard form of exhortations developed by philosophers from Aristotle on. These exhortations about how the head of a household should deal with members of his family usually break down into discussions of husband-wife, father-child and master-slave relationships. Paul borrows this form of discussion straight from standard Greco-Roman moral writing.’ (IVP Bible Background Commentary)
‘Among the most sacred of…bonds of human society is the tie of marriage. The family is the primordial cell of the body politic, closely interlinked with the welfare of the species; and to tamper with it brings disaster to the state dissolute enough to sanction its desecration. Those who are busy undermining the chastity of wedlock today are the worst enemies of the common-weal. Its inviolability is not a question to be settled on grounds of expediency. The corner-stone of society is at stake in the matter.’ (Simpson)
‘Let her exhibit in the home circle those queenly virtues so much more potent and precious in many respects than the kinglier prerogatives of the legislature or office or bench.’ (Simpson)
James Hurley has stated: ‘Only with violence to the text can it be asserted that the idea of authority is absent from the language of headship and submission in Eph 5:22-33. However, a significant difference between the two passages must also be noted. Chapter 1 stresses that by God’s design all creation has been subjected to Christ for the sake of the church. In chapter 5 Paul sees God’s design as calling upon women to subject themselves (=submit) to their husbands as the church subjects itself to Christ. Husbands are not told to make their wives to be subject. Both Peter and Paul follow this pattern whenever they speak to persons called upon to be subordinate, whether wives, children, slaves or citizens. Submission for the sake of the love of Christ is set before the one who is to submit.’
Submit – The word is not present in the Greek text of this verse, but is inferred from the previous verse.  This circumstance does that in Paul’s teaching, the submission of wife to husband is just one example of mutual submission.

As to the Lord – as part of their commitment to the Lord.

‘The basic idea presented here and repeated in Eph 5:24b is that women should not seek to assert themselves in the home in a way that could be viewed as ruling, controlling, or dominating. Rather, they must acknowledge the God-given role assigned to the husband and respect the leadership he endeavors to provide for the family.’ (Arnold)

‘In contrast to Aristotle and the widely influential tradition he spawned, there is nothing here about the natural inferiority of women to men and the appropriateness, then, of men ruling over women. There is certainly no hint that all women should submit to all men.’ (Thielman)

‘Submission is a universal requirement, but there are some types of relationship in which it is more particularly enjoined. The first of these is marriage, the second is parenthood, the third is employment. There are six different social classes, and Paul lays down the duties of each. He begins with wives, who are to submit to their husbands as they would submit to Christ. It is not that husbands possess Christ’s authority, but wives cannot obey him unless they submit to their husbands.’ (Calvin)

The husband is the head of the wife as also Christ is the head of the churchThe idea that kephale means ‘source’, rather than ‘chief’ goes back to an article by Stephen Bedale published in 1954.  It was taken up by F.F. Bruce and C.K. Barrett in their respective commentaries on 1 Corinthians.  According to NBC, ‘head’ unequivocally means ‘master’, and never had the meaning of ‘source’ (as some have claimed) in biblical Greek.  Grudem, similarly, rejects this argument on the basis of an analysis of usage in ancient Greek literature.  It would seem from Eph 1:22 that headship does indeed imply some kind of ‘authority over’.  But this must not be over-stated.  The NT never uses the word ‘authority’ to describe a husband’s role, nor the word ‘obedience’ to describe the wife’s.  Moreover, the word ‘subordination’ is inappropriate, given its implication of inferiority, rank, and discipline.

Christians for Biblical Equality state: ‘The Bible teaches that husbands and wives are heirs together of the grace of life and that they are bound together in a relationship of mutual submission and responsibility (1 Cor. 7:3–5; Eph. 5:21; 1 Pet. 3:1–7; Gen. 21:12). The husband’s function as “head” (kephalē) is to be understood as self-giving love and service within this relationship of mutual submission (Eph. 5:21–33; Col. 3:19; I Pet. 3:7).’

Piper and Grudem (Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood): ‘Verse 23 is the ground, or argument, for verse 22; thus it begins with the word for. “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife. . . .” When the headship of the husband is given as the ground for the submission of the wife, the most natural understanding is that headship signifies some kind of leadership.’

Stott (Issues facing Christians today, 4th ed., p343f) prefers ‘responsibility’: responsibility to love sacrificially, and responsibility to care selflessly.  ‘The husband’s headship of his wife…is a liberating mix of care and responsibility rather than control and authority.  This distinction is of far-reaching importance.  It takes our vision of the husband’s role away from questions of domination and decision-making into the sphere of service and nurture.’

Writing in the The Independent (17th October 1992), Tom Wright says,

The fullest exposition of headship in the New Testament occurs in Ephesians 5:21-33. This passage is about marriage, not about the position of male and female within society, nor yet about ministry within the church. But it is about headship, which has featured prominently in recent debate about ministry.

The meaning of ‘headship’ in this passage subverts Ozymandias-style headship in exactly the same way that the Gospel and the Bible both do. Christ is the head of the Church, says Paul; that is, he ‘loved the Church and gave himself up for her’.

The death of Jesus is the act which demonstrates what headship really means.

Elsewhere, Paul explains in more detail what Jesus’s death involved; it meant radically abandoning all privilege, all status, all authority of the head-of-gold variety (Philippians 2:6-8, 2 Corinthians 8:9). The only truly Christian headship wears a crown of thorns.

‘There is, of course, an Old Testament background to this in the way that the prophets regarded the Lord as husband of his people, entering into a marriage covenant with them, and loving them with steadfast love, even when, because of their idolatry, they were like an unfaithful wife who had committed adultery (e.g. Isa. 54:1–8; 62:4–5; Jer. 3:6–14; 31:32; Ezek. 16; 23; Hos. 1–3).’ (Foulkes, TNTC)

Body – In his book, Rise and be healed, Benny Hinn writes that ‘the Bible says in Eph 5:23 that Jesus Christ is the savior of the body…If Jesus Christ is the savior of the body, then your body ought to be made whole.’ This is, of course, an absurd interpretation: ‘the body’ in this verse is ‘his body’ – the church.

Of which he is Saviour – ‘Paul pictures the wife’s submission as the recognition of the authority of a husband who imitates the self-sacrificial, nurturing, and supporting roles that Christ fills with respect to the church.’ (Thielman)

Wives should submit to their husbands – Some expositors (e.g. Foulkes) stress that Paul is talking only of marital and family relations here.  The implication drawn is that ‘she may fulfil any function and any responsibility in society, but if she has accepted before God the responsibility of marriage and of a family, these must be her first concern.’

In everything – Paul expects this to be qualified by common sense.  He does not mean ‘in everything, no matter how silly or sinful’, any more than in 2 Cor 4:8; 7:5, when he says that he was ‘oppressed in every way’ (same expression) he means that he experienced every known affliction. (Thielman)

5:25 Husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her 5:26 to sanctify her by cleansing her with the washing of the water by the word, 5:27 so that he may present the church to himself as glorious—not having a stain or wrinkle, or any such blemish, but holy and blameless.
‘Let the wife make the husband glad to come home, and let him make her sorry to see him leave.’

Martin Luther (1483-1546)

Husbands, love your wives – Ancient household codes never commanded husbands to love their wives, only wives to obey their husbands.

‘The sweeping nature of the demand placed on the wife (ἐν παντί, en panti, in everything; v. 23) is therefore matched by an equally sweeping demand on the husband. Like Christ, the husband is to love (ἀγαπάω, agapaō) his wife by the sacrifice of his own life on his wife’s behalf (cf. Eph 1:7; 2:13–16; 5:2).’ (Thielman)

Thielman points out that contemporary Greco-Roman advice was not devoid of encouragements to mutual love and tenderness.  But ‘the idea that the husband should expend his life in the care of his wife, however, is unusual. The far more typical approach to marriage was that the wife should manage the household well in order to free the husband from domestic concerns and enhance his social prestige. In contrast, Paul’s comparison between the husband’s love for his wife and Christ’s love for the church implies that the husband’s love for his wife should be so broad and long and high and deep (3:18–19) that it includes the sacrifice of his own social prestige and well-being, indeed his life, for the sake of his wife (cf. Phil. 2:5–8).’

‘It means not only a practical concern for the welfare of the other, but a continual readiness to subordinate one’s own pleasure and advantage for the benefit of the other. It implies patience and kindliness, humility and courtesy, trust and support (1 Cor. 13:4–7). This love means that one is eager to understand what the needs and interests of the other are, and will do everything in his power to supply those needs and further those interests.’ (Mitton)

‘Hast thou seen the measure of obedience? hear also the measure of love. Wouldst thou that thy wife should obey thee as the Church doth Christ? have care thyself for her, as Christ for the Church.’ (Chrysostom)

‘Just as Christ loved the church…’

1. Dominion. We must banish all thoughts of an overbearing sway or cringing subservience; for a passion of mutual love glows in the bosoms of the ideal Bridegroom and his ideal bride. There is in fact a measure of equality between the human contracting parties, attempered by a measure of precedence … The husband bears rule, but his is no capricious or exacting priority. His lordship is not arbitrary but constitutional, and her deference not constrained, but spontaneously yielded.

2. Devotion. Wondrous have been the the exhibitions of self-sacrifice, even in the human sphere, that the spirit of deep affection has elicited … Love speedily outstrips law in the race of achievement. Constancy and self-abandonment ennoble her feats of arms … But the apostle exalts the love of Christ, as well he may, far above the human image of its dominance. That pales in presence of the more illustrious passion of Christ crucified, lip up with a radiance all its own … The ransomed of the Lord owe their very salvation to their Bridegroom. ‘Christ’s love to his elect passes knowledge; its depths are beyond the plumblines of created intelligences, its flame self-fed, self-kindled, aglow with an incandescence that many waters could not quench; a purpose to redeem which nothing could divert from its resolve, nor any obstacle, however tremendous, deter from achieving it once for all. The king of terrors, armed with his fellest sting, had no power to withhold this unblenching Lover from standing proxy for the bride of his choice. What an amazing spectacle this, of Life essential plunging into a dread abyss of dereliction that his bride might partake with him of everlasting bliss and joy! Is he not the mirror of chivalry no less than of devotion? No human suitor has ever loved, or ever will, on such a scale as that.’

3. Design. The Lord Jesus has formed his people for himself, the fruit of his travail rendered an object of eternal complacency in his eyes by sanctifying grace, a baseborn folk made gloriously pure and spotless by his sleepless watchfulness, to be presented to himself, when their fashioning season is overpassed, clad in a strangely radiant investiture of immortal loveliness. When their corruption has put on incorruption, they shall shine forth in his likeness; for the clothing of the bride imparadised is to be of wrought gold and she is made one spirit with her Lord, even as the ideal wife fuses her nature with her husband’s and finds in him her rounded whole and complement.’

4. Derivation. Here we come face to face with the marvel of the “mystical union” … Believers are members of his body by participation in the same quickening Spirit that indwelt Christ’s human nature. The inmost secret of redeeming love discloses itself in this conjunction. Thus the confluence of two lives in holy matrimony typifies a sublimer relation than its own, the union of the Song of Songs, a betrothal inward, reciprocal, everlasting.’

(Simpson, abridged)

Cleansing her by the washing with water – Lit. ‘having cleansed her’.  This probably refers to the pre-nuptial washing of the bride, after which she would be perfumed and dressed in her wedding clothes.  She was thereby ‘set apart’ for her husband, just as the church is to be ‘set apart’, or ‘made holy’, for her husband.

Most interpreters think that the reference is to baptism.  Some, however (including O’Brien, Hoehner and Thielman) regard it as a metaphorical reference to the saving power of the gospel.

The word – ‘It is probably the word of the gospel (cf. Rom. 10:8; 1 Pet. 1:25) rather than the human ‘pledge’ (Bruce) or ‘confession’ of faith (Moffatt) or the ‘baptismal formula’ (Schlier) that is meant.’ (Foulkes)

To present her to himself – One step in the Jewish marriage ceremony was the removal of the bride from her father’s home, and her introduction to the home of the groom.

Radiant – Just as the bride is radiant in her wedding attire.  ‘The church is pictured as a young bride of dazzling beauty. Her youth is evident from her unwrinkled skin, and her skin is unblemished as a result both of her youth and of the bridal bath she has just taken. Since the term ἔνδοξος can describe resplendent clothing (Luke 7:25), Paul was probably thinking of the especially beautiful garments that a bride might wear on the day of her wedding.’ (Thielman)

Holy and blameless – ‘Implicit in this claim that the church is the resplendent bride of Christ, then, is a call to live in a way that is consistent with this status.’ (Thielman)

5:28 In the same way husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 5:29 For no one has ever hated his own body but he feeds it and takes care of it, just as Christ also does the church, 5:30 for we are members of his body. 5:31 For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and will be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. 5:32 This mystery is great—but I am actually speaking with reference to Christ and the church. 5:33 Nevertheless, each one of you must also love his own wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

‘The probable explanation for Paul’s descent to the more mundane level of self-love is that he is always a realist. We cannot fully grasp the greatness of Christ’s love; it ‘surpasses knowledge’, as he wrote earlier. Nor do husbands find it easy to apply this standard to the realities of family life. But we all know from everyday experience how we love ourselves. Hence the practical usefulness of the ‘golden rule’ Jesus enunciated that we should treat others as we would ourselves like to be treated. For we all know this instinctively. It is after all the way we treat ourselves.’ (Stott)  The same writer adds: ‘This exhortation to a husband to “nourish and cherish” his wife as he does his own body is more than a useful guide to daily behaviour, however. It also contains an inner appropriateness, since he and his wife have in fact become “one flesh”.’

Arnold: ‘Paul’s thought here is that husbands should carefully consider all of the ways that they care for themselves and make sure that they provide the same level of care for their wives.’

O’Brien: ‘The statement applies the second great commandment, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself” (Lev 19:18), in a direct way to the love which the husband should have for his nearest and dearest neighbour, namely, his wife.’

As their own bodies is perhaps an allusion to Gen 2:24 (‘they will become one flesh’), quoted in v31.

‘The idea of husbands loving their wives as their own bodies reflects the model of Christ, whose love for the church can be seen as love for his own body (cf. vv. 23, 30).’ (O’Brien)

He feeds and cares for it – ‘Such self-love is not wrong. It is the law of life, and the extension of it to similar care for one’s life-partner is the law of marriage.’ (Foulkes)

Paul has had this quotation from Gen 2:24 in his mind throughout this discussion about marriage.

‘This statement from the creation story is the most profound and fundamental statement in the whole of Scripture concerning God’s plan for marriage. It has been the ultimate bulwark of the church against the arguments for allowing polygamy to remain in the societies where she has met it; it is the ultimate argument against promiscuity; it is the ultimate reason why the church can have no pleasure in the dissolution of marriage by divorce.’ (Foulkes)

A man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife – ‘Prior to marriage a man or a woman has his or her closest bond with parents, and to them has the greatest obligation. The new bond and obligation that marriage involves transcends the old. Filial duty does not cease, but the most intimate relationship now, and the highest loyalty, is that between husband and wife, and parents only imperil that relationship by trying in any way to come between. There must be a leaving of parents on the part of husband and wife, and a corresponding renouncing of rights on the part of parents. Then there is a cleaving of the two together in the ‘one flesh’ (av) relationship, blessed by God and a comfort and blessing to both.’ (Foulkes)

This is a profound mystery – The Western Catholic tradition understood the reference to marriage in Eph 5 as a ‘great mystery’ to mean that it was a sacrament, therefore having a permanent quality like baptism.  This came about in part due to the translation in the latin Vulgate of Gk musterion as sacramentum.  But, apart from the translational problems associated with such a view, it is more likely that the ‘great mystery’ refers not to marriage itself, but to what marriage points to – the union of Christ and the church.

I am talking about Christ and the church – ‘This probably means that the union of husband and wife in “one flesh” was originally intended to prefigure and to illustrate the union that Christ now has with the church.’ (Thielman)

O’Brien thinks that the ‘great mystery’ is not the union between Christ and his church, but rather this union as a paradigm for the union between the believing husband and wife.

Love his wife as he loves himself

The wife must respect her husband – The verb is lit. ‘fear’.  But this does not mean that the wife is to be ‘afraid’ of her husband, any more than the person who ‘fears’ God is afraid of him.  Such fearfulness cannot co-exist with love (cf. 1 Jn 4:18).

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